Anonymous asked: Do you have any tips for how to stay informed about climate change without getting into a depressive spiral? When I read the news and see how our politicians still aren't willing to take meaningful action, it's difficult not to be angry and just generally distraught. How does a person fighting for change remain hopeful? (sorry if this has been asked before)
No worries - I get asked this all the time. My two best responses are here (on how I don’t explode when dealing with climate deniers) and here (on how I see my self in the context of environmentalism). Note that both are answers to reader mail, but the answer you seek (hopefully) is sandwiched in the middle of my replies.
But, the toll on environmentalist’s emotional health is very real. In, Do Environmentalists Need Shrinks?, the writer interviews a psychologist whose research focuses on environmentalism and depression.
Allan Savory: How to green the world’s deserts and reverse climate change
Not at all what I expected. For just over half his talk, Savory discusses the issue of desertification, which many of you are familiar with. He (like many others) makes the case for restoring these deserts.
Then, in the last six minutes, he completely blows everyone’s minds. You just gotta see it.
Cateura, Paraguay’s residents live on top of a landfill that gets 1,500 tons of solid waste each day, exposing the impoverished communities to unhealthy conditions. Most of the town works in the dump as recyclers, including many of the young people.
When local teacher Favio Chavez decided to teach the town’s children to play music using his own instruments, he soon had more students than instruments. The solution? He started teaching the students on instruments upcycled from trash and the Recycled Orchestra was born.
Beautiful restoration occurring along the Bronx River by non-profits, young people, landscape architects, and city planners.
“I come here all the time,” he said. “It’s incredible, no?”
Yes, it is.
For years one of the most blighted, abused waterways in the country, the southern end of the Bronx River has been slowly coming back and with it the shoreline that meanders through the South Bronx. Next year, barring further delays, what looks to be an innovative work of green architecture, by the Brooklyn firm Kiss & Cathcart, is slated to open in Starlight Park, a green stretch upriver from Hunts Point Riverside. This summer at the mouth of the river another street-end pocket park, Hunts Point Landing, is opening between a Sanitation Department depot and a food processing plant.
The New York waterfront is changing perhaps more than any other part of the city. For centuries the interests of big money and industry shaped it. These days, notwithstanding dogged efforts by the Economic Development Corporation to kindle business along the waterfronts of Sunset Park in Brooklyn and on Staten Island, the city’s old industrial waterfront is in many places giving way to parks and luxury apartment towers where money still talks, like along the Hudson.
But compared with headline-making projects in Manhattan and Brooklyn, the unexpected renaissance under way along the south end of the Bronx River flies largely below the radar. Park by park a patchwork of green spaces has been taking shape, the consequence of decades of grinding, grass-roots, community-driven efforts. For the environmentalists, educators, politicians, architects and landscape designers involved, the idea has not just been to revitalize a befouled waterway and create new public spaces. It has been to invest Bronx residents, for generations alienated from the water, in the beauty and upkeep of their local river.
VIDEO REPORT: Rewriting Zimbabwe’s education system
UNICEF reports on the Education Transition Fund, which is is providing learning resources and improving school quality for the most vulnerable and marginalized children in Zimbabwe, including those with disabilities.
“At Leo Politi Elementary, workers ripped out concrete and planted native flora. The plants attracted insects, which attracted birds, which attracted students, who, fascinated by the nature unfolding before them, learned so much that their science test scores rose sixfold.”
What a great story to wake up to! Read the rest, here.
This one really got me today. The loss of Hamidi matters to the field of city planning because, internationally, it sheds light on how Middle Eastern cities typically plan for their future - they don’t. Anyone who attempts to implement a vision for stability, human health and education, and economic development is quickly evicted from power.
I think Jill captures the ‘sentiment of hope’ in her interview, which I hope you take the time to watch here, or below. Hamidi clearly cares about helping the people of Kabul. He just wants to do the right thing. (So does the incredible Jill). Now, juxtapose these human acts against his assassination, here, and you’ll see how challenging instilling “hope” really is in the Middle East.
Hope is continually crushed. Leadership is persistently lost. And I cannot see how it will ever change. Ever. There will never be a Middle Eastern period of enlightenment, and that’s why they’ll never catch up or develop. They need an introspective enlightenment…
I know a courageous city planner, Michael Crane, who contracts with cities in the Sunni Triangle, Iraq. I say ‘courageous’ because he’s been almost killed in assassination attempts. This past spring, in Boston, I invited him to speak on one of my conference panels for the American Planning Association’s International Division, of which I’m a board member. Our panel topic was Challenges of International Planning.
Crane told a story that had everyone in the room the edges of their seats. He’d been working in a 5 story office building in Tikrit with other city officials. Assassins stormed the building in the middle of the day and killed over 30 people. They walked in, went floor-by-floor, and shot everyone on sight until they found the guy they were looking for - a low level, though visionary, city planner who was appointed by the mayor. After this man was shot dead, they got into their trucks and drove away. It was hours before “help” arrived in the form of locals and a smattering of troops.
After telling his story in near tears, he took a deep breath and wrapped up his talk. Focusing on his audience, he concluded by saying that, in the Middle East, the concept of city planning and economic development is completely lost once you enter Iraq. It’s a non-existent enumberance that, when implemented, turns out backwards.
Everything in war-torn, Middle Eastern cities, therefore, is a day-to-day hodge-podge of just fixing things. There are no computers and electricity is random. It’s inhumanely hot. Files and records are lost, and what are kept are impossible to decipher or enforce. Employees, if they show up, steal and bribe. There are no true building codes, environmental regulations, land use laws, or property rights (as we know them). The water is filthy. It’s just a chaotic mess of fixing things - a road gets bombed, the planners work with troops to fix it. A hotel “falls down” from cheap materials, the planners work with new construction crews to build another, equally shoddy building.
I gather that holding all this together is this rich milieu of culturally guided, benevolent anarchy. It’s a system of trust and feud, favors and family. You get things done on a daily basis, not a generational one.
You find bread today, not invest in a bakery for tomorrow. There’s no such thing as “retirement.” Which is fine if it functions well, if there’s support and family and friends to stitch it all together. But, add nasty terrorists to this mix and you get a tattered fabric of hopelessness and horrible death. There’s no hope for the people -the residents and children - when their closest city councils are blown to bits every other week. This was Crane’s blurb for the conference. He went off script for sure:
Michael Crane, AICP, Sr. Project Manager SGI
This presentation will be based on real examples of urban planning in Iraq. It will document personal experiences as planners tried to collect and analyze data, engage the public and politicians, and create new city plans for some of the most ethnically and politically sensitive areas in the country. The audience will learn with the benefit of hindsight to identify and avoid cultural and political pitfalls by hearing from our mistakes. They will also learn of the significant challenges of working in a war zone such as communicating to avoid detection, securing buildings before meetings, and the challenges of working with armed guards.
Benevolent anarchy + functional terrorism equals a reliably desperate community. Nothing can get done, and there’s little reason to hope for a better tomorrow, especially problematic when you have no positive pasts to emulate. It tears my heart. As a result of this formula, city planning in the Middle East is a cobbled together mash-up of corruption, nepotism, short-sightedness, and dangerous engineering (as you can see from the video, some building ‘engineers’ can’t even read). Worse, a military-force response is not the answer, it’s pointless.
OK, clever. But where’s the hope? Environmentalists have to change their doom narratives to encompass the moral and the sacred in order to get conservatives on board. Like it or not. Here are somesuggestions.
A blog about the interactions between the built environment, people, and nature.
I'm a climate change consultant specializing in climate adaptation, environmental law, and urban planning based in the U.S. In addition to traveling and hiking, I research, publish, and lecture on how cities can adapt to climate change.
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